December 11, 2008

Time to buy a tin foil hat?

This is unbelievable! Scientists have announced that they have been able to view images from the fMRI of a person's brain. While it may not be time for a tin-foil hat just yet, we need to reminds ourselves of just how quickly technology improves over time. One scientist stated that soon he'd likely be able to see the images in color. I can just imagine the possibilities for something like this; of course, not all of them necessarily welcome. But can you imagine that we'd be able to communicate easily with autistic people? Hook this technology up to a blackboard, and Stephen Hawking could give visualized briefings just by imagining what he's thinking about. The possibilities of analyzing how dreams work, being able to communicate with people who don't have the ability to express themselves... eventually even high definition criminal facial recognition... It is news items like this that make me realize just how COOL technology can be. Of course, this'll make a hell of a lie detector, torture device, etc.... but at least for now you'll need to consent to an fMRI and we can't do those remotely (yet).

December 04, 2008

Writing What You Mean - Reading What Was Written

When I write a blog comment, an email, or a letter or written communication, I spend a lot of time writing, editing, modifying the words that I've used to ensure that they get across the intent that I meant. I saw a video today saying there are 540,000 words in the English language, 10x more than were available to the language in the time of Shakespeare. Don't get me wrong, I'm no Shakespeare, and I'm lucky if I know 5% of the entire English language, but at the same time, I like to think that I am fairly well versed in how to write down my thoughts in accurate terms.

The problem comes when people read what I write. They read my emails and my blog postings, but the words that they are reading are not my own. No, instead, I find that people read what they want or expect to hear. They ignore my carefully chosen phrases and the innuendo of my chosen words. Differences in syntax and word choices are lost in their own intentions.

I'm probably the same way. I most likely read what others have written in terms of what I believe they should be saying. As I sit here blogging about it, I am thinking about researching possible ways for changing that, so that I can become a better listener and a better reader.

November 16, 2008

Racism is an ugly disease

Guess what's new again? Racism in America! It's ugly, it's stupid, it's based in falsehood and fear. Racism is one of the most toxic things in our society, and it has long been the time to put a stop to it. If you say, or do something racist, whether you be black, white, Indian or other, you should feel shame. Think about what you're doing. Is it something you would do in front of a stranger of the race you're mocking or talking about killing? How would you feel if it were being done to you? Do you seriously think that people will think that you are an intelligent human being, and are worth anything to society? Do you think that your value to society will out-value the infection that you are spreading?

In the workplace, we have spent decades evening out the working environment to make it a place where sexual and racial intolerance were not stood for. Yet, it still creeps in every now and again... It is because we do not stamp out the little things. The jokes, the sexual and racial humor...we let it slide...then we let it slide a little more. The next thing you know, someone feels uncomfortable, and then they feel threatened..and it's back. The jokes become reality. You need to NIP IT IN THE BUD. Racism will be the new thing in 2009. And it's up to those of you intelligent enough to read this message to stop it NOW before it gets too late.

I know it's starting already. You think I haven't heard the jokes, seen the videos? The Pimp-Force One? It makes me sick to my stomach that someone I know would share that video with others and laugh about it. I'm disgusted. No, it's NOT O.K. just because the black guy in the office is laughing along with you. It's wrong, and it's virulent.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I beg of you...don't follow in the footprints of your parents and grandparents. Don't make the same mistakes they made. Grow up, wise up and Change Yourselves before it's too late. Need scriptural help? Start with Matthew 7:3-5. Look in to yourselves and change yourselves to act with righteousness so that you can be an example to your children and your neighbors.

That's my random rambling for today..

November 11, 2008

Proud Owner of a Kindle

I am the proud owner of a new (used) Amazon Kindle. So far, I am impressed by its capabilities, its ease of use and its potential. I very much like the built in dictionary capability, as well as the search capability. Finding text in a book is extremely simple, and the keyboard is very easy to thumb-type with. The really nice thing is the built-in basic web browser which has made it very easy to find and download compatible Project Gutenberg texts. For my first forays into electronic ink, I have chosen:

1. The Adventures of Sherlock Homes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2. The American Crisis - Thomas Paine
3. The Art of War - Sun Tzu
4. The Audacity of Hope - Barack Obama (only $4.50 or first Amazon purchase)
5. Cabbage and Kings - O. Henry
6. The Call of Cthulhu - H.P. Lovecraft
7. Common Sense - Thomas Paine
8. I, Robot - Cory Doctorow (I didn't realize it wasn't the original until I downloaded it - I may read it anyway)
9. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
10. The Rights of Man - Thomas Paine
11. When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth - Cory Doctorow (a salacious title beckons...)

The only complaint so far is that I fall asleep while reading and in so doing, my finger rests on the 'next page' button too easily, losing my place. Holding the Kindle differently may stop me from doing that. I'll report on more experiences later as I enjoy it.

November 10, 2008

Secret Excel 2007 Tip #2098126.23

Using Excel, I had data that was presented as a percentage, but the source data was not output in decimal notation. Thus, 67.53% was in the original data as 67.53. I wished to graph a pivot table of this data, but didn't want to go through the extra steps to convert the data by dividing it by 100 and re-graphing it.

When going in to the Axis Format and choosing Number, when I chose Percentage, it would multiply the data by 100, giving me 6753% and such on the left axis. That wasn't what I wanted, so I took a leap of logic, diving from my programming experience that I could use an escape character, and walla! It worked! '0\%' displayed the numbers with a trailing % sign without the multiplication.

November 09, 2008

Why Consumers Aren't Buying

Just a few suggestions as to why consumers (the ones that are left) aren't buying things. Perhaps those of us who still have our jobs don't have anything left to buy. There is absolutely nothing out on the market today that I need, apart from foodstuffs. HDTV? Got one, Blu-Ray player? Who needs it for $300, Computer? Sorry, my two year old laptop does everything I want or need at the moment. Just about anything else that's for sale is something I already own or can't see a good reason to buy.

I walked through a mall today, and apart from browsing through Target, it was full of clothing stores and video-game stores. Even Radio Shack isn't interesting anymore, as their push to sell cell phones makes them just like the 100 other cell phone stores in the mall. I don't think they even sell electronic parts anymore, do they? I'd probably be lucky to find a replacement LED if I needed one.

The consumer that has a job is BORED. He/she has what he/she needs and is just waiting for something useful to buy. We've over-engineered our lives until we are so spoiled and so capable that there's nothing left to buy. We've seen it all and bought it.

The rest of the consumers don't have jobs and are selling all their stuff on E-bay, so that's going to cut into your market-share as well. I just bought an Amazon Kindle on E-bay to get 25% cash back from an online search engine. I saved $85. Did I need the Kindle? No - but hey, a deal's a deal.

Just blabbing - not well-thought out...but that's why I call them randomblings.

November 04, 2008

What would be nice...

Here's one final hope for Congress. Why don't you try DE-regulating some of the stupid laws put into place by your former congressional sessions? Instead of concentrating on passing NEW laws that work for your goals, why not pay some attention to repealing stupid laws and old ideas that didn't work? How about aiming for lessening the regulatory stress of the federal government, and repeal some things, perhaps even start with The Patriot Act?

Just a thought....a new approach....some REAL change in Washington.

Virginia doesn't even matter

In the end, whether Virginia switches or not doesn't even matter. The race was close, and it looks like Barack Obama may carry the state, but with Ohio, it won't even matter. The nation now has it's 'Hope' candidate for President. It's going to be a long and grueling road for Mr. Obama. He's left with a mess of a country. It's going to take hard work, intelligence, compassion and some very hard decisions. I hope that his Presidency reflects a balanced path rather than a party-aligned path to correcting what is wrong with this country. I hope that the Democratic party does not over-involve the government where it does not belong. I hope that that they realize how important individual liberty is to the people. I hope that there is some real change in Washington.

However, I'm not going to hold my breath. The Democratic party will likely go with their plans to further socialize the United States. In some areas, this may be warranted, but readers of my randomblings will know that I don't support government forced distribution of wealth, power or privilege. I do agree that the government has so far molly-coddled big business and corporations to the detriment of the needs of individuals, and some correction is warranted. However, the Republican ticket did not do enough to ensure the American people it would address these concerns. In all, I did not vote for either major party candidate. To that end, I'm going to be a bit of an elitist here and wash my hands of the whole affair.

Whatever happens, America - you did this to yourselves. I hope you're happy.

Back to 220 and a diet

Ok, making it known that I have gained back all the weight I had lost, and I am now cutting myself off from 'diet' soda, coffee and other caffeine products (including candy). Public accountability has to be part of a diet plan. I am switching from Subway sandwiches to Subway salads for lunch, and will do my best to avoid non-complex carbs (sugars, pastas, etc.). Let's see what I can do about getting back to a healthy size again. Of course, my suits won't fit, but that will be a price I'm willing to pay. Now day 2 without the sodas....boy am I tired.

October 29, 2008

Human Efficiency?

Ran into an interesting link:
23.5 miles per gallon

Created by The Car Connection

This link leads to some other questions. Efficiency of the car is obviously higher because it can carry more and go faster..but what about carbon footprint? What is my output for the same mileage (or over the time frame it would take me to walk this far)? How expensive is a gallon of food/water compared to gasoline?....

Natural Language Processing

'Pentagon!' - One word - that's normally all that is communicated between commuters each morning as they pick up riders for the HOV lanes here in Northern VA. With three riders, cars can use a special section of I-395 meant for high occupancy vehicles. It's a fast way to work and the process is known as 'slugging' here in the suburbs of our nation's capital.

After the cry of 'Pentagon!' out the window, 2 people will get into the driver's vehicle, perhaps mutter 'Thanks!' and then no other words will be spoken the entire ride until they get out at the end of the ride. Again, a quick 'Thanks!', 'Thank you' or 'Thanks for the ride!' is called out as the transaction is completed.

It's a fairly complex transaction from the standpoint of an outsider, but once the protocol is picked up, those of us who participate understand it completely. 90% of the transactions are completed with less words than comprise this sentence. Humans communicate in short bursts for many repeated transactions in their daily lives. It got me to thinking about communication, The Turing Test, computers and, oddly, my 7th grade English classes on thesis paper construction.

In English class, we learn to write different types of papers. The contruction algorithm of an argument is explained to us in simple terms {statement of hypothesis, supporting argument sentences, closing resolution/restatement of hypothesis}. We were taught how to construct sentences, how to construct paragraphs and so on....

A lot of what we do in our day to day lives is driven by our unique needs and goals. Perhaps thinking of it in terms of dopamine receptors and language centers may help us in engineering a natural language processor that would seem more human and able to pass the Turing Test. Additionally, we need to take into account concepts such as 'shame' and 'fear' to induce different personalities into our AI. I know that I put together sentences that I never utter due to these modifiers (not willing to be punched in the nose or start an altercation, saving face, etc...).

I saw something about a semantic dictionary that I probably need to look into that would help with some of the sentence/paragraph construction logic, but I think much of the work that hasn't been done is in the 'motivation' side of speech analysis. Surely to pass the Turing Test, the motivation is clear - convince the human that you are human (even though you are not). I'll need to do some research into thinking/speaking patterns used in deceipt. Maybe I can start with analyzing structure of political speeches and news interviews, working my way up [or down] to criminal defendant arguments on the stand.

A library of structure/patterns of speech need to be created that fit different motivations for speech so that language is more real to the computer, and more of a driving force in the structure of the speech itself. Hopefully the semantic dictionary will help the faux paus of not understanding hidden meaning in sentences by providing further context for the words that are used. Perhaps even irony and back-handed compliments could be detected in analyzing input (or better yet, delivered by the program itself)

Just my thoughts for today...later

October 25, 2008

Speed of Commerce Kills Big Box Stores

The speed of commerce using the Internet just kills the price models at big box stores like Best Buy and Circuit City. Today I was shopping for an 8GB micro SD card to fit my new phone. Nothing like lots of storage for video and music to take with my on my commute. More space means fewer days organizing data once I watch and listen to everything on my small 2GB card. Any-who, I looked online and see that 8GB micro SD cards are selling for around $24.00 ea (plus shipping of 5.95 about). I also see that 16GB micro SD cards are already out and selling for close to $100. Well, as I happened to be going to the mall anyway, I stopped by both Best Buy and Circuit City. $69.95 for class 2 (the slow version) 8GB micro SDHC cards. What a difference. Double-plus what I would pay online. So, I went back home and ordered them on - free standard shipping and $28. ea for class 6 (the fast ones) cards. I bought 2. Sure, I have $70, but I wasn't that hard up to get the items today. I'll wait 3-4 days for UPS ground or snail mail.

October 21, 2008

3GP videos on the AT&T Tilt (HTC 8925)

Do you have an AT&T Tilt with Windows Mobile 6.1 on it? Are you trying to play your 3GP files on it? Are you frustrated by the million or so posts on the web about how to make it work properly? Do you feel you should just be able to download and install a codec or something to make it just WORK? Well, here's the answer:

Download and install a special version of TCPMP made just for the Tilt. Once you install it, you can use TCPMP to play your 3GP (and a myriad of other files) videos!

That's it....have fun!

October 20, 2008

What did Circuit City do wrong?

Over on Ars, I read an article about Circuit City possibly closing stores. It got me to thinking about my own personal experiences with Circuit City. What did they do wrong? Why are they losing market share to Best Buy?

The first thing that struck my mind is their trade dress. The colors for Circuit City are drab and dull. Even the red in their logo isn't bright and cheery. The font itself screams BORING at the top of its lungs. In other words, the Sunday circular from Circuit City doesn't scream look at me. Instead, it just kind of says, meh, this is what we have for sale.

The second thing that came to mind? The Admiral brand stereo system. If there is ever a low-priced item for sale at Circuit City, dollars-to-donuts it was this cheaply manufactured, low on features and high on non-recyclable plastics brand. Nothing screams CHEAP more than a store brand stereo or computer. Thankfully for Best Buy, they've stayed away from identifying their store with any one product (and a poor one at that). On top of that, the whole DIV-X debacle probably sits on people's minds more than anything else.

Let's see, what else? Circuit City brings to mind SALESPEOPLE, Best Buy brings to mind GEEKS. If I'm shopping for electronics, I'm not looking for a pressure-cook from a sales guy...I want information. I'm more 'likely' to find that at Best Buy (although pickings are sometimes slim). I've never found someone at Circuit City who knew what they were selling.

Best Buy stores - packed with goods. Circuit City - drab showroom floors with poor lighting, sparse product placement (plenty of room to walk though..)

Lessons for the next big box store, I guess.

October 14, 2008

Been Meaning to Write

Ok - been meaning to write, so stream of conscience(sp? - whatever) may pop up here.  Interesting, Google Chrome gave me a red underline while composing that word (in Edit HTML mode) but didn't bother to tell me HOW to spell it.  I'm sure that it is now spelled right, but it could be a homynym for whatever I meant.

I was out riding my bike (been a long time since I've done that, but it feels good) a few miles and got to thinking about stuff...lots of stuff - like how I never blog much any more.  Not that I've ever been religious about it, but it would do me good to exercise the language neurons every now and again.

This whole election just has me pissed off.  I've heard things that make me want to vote for Obama, like trusting that he'll put the right people in the right jobs (perhaps he'll put someone in charge of FEMA who has, you know, experience with disaster planning) [based on what I've heard about the appointments he made at Harvard Law Review].  He is probably not the type of guy to put yes-men into his cabinet slots.  HOWEVER, I've also read some disturbing information about his tax credits and how some of them are geared to become a form of social welfare.  While I believe in NO taxation on the poor and barely getting by, I certainly don't believe in negative taxes.  You shouldn't be getting a check from the government.  In fact, I've been ashamed to receive rebate checks from our Republican administration.

Taxation belongs in one place - the only fair place - on spending.  You shouldn't tax people who scrimp and save.  You should tax people who can afford luxury.  My feelings on taxation have for a long time been very simply that you should pay a flat tax on anything that isn't a staple (food, healthcare, the roof over your head, utilities).  However, I'm also not a believer in welfare.  Welfare is something best left to the community, and shouldn't be the job of the federal government.  Churches, civic organizations and local communities should decide what's needed and the best way to provide it for their people.  Taking my money and giving it to others is a bad idea, even if it is for the greater good.  I get enough phone calls and letters in the mail asking me for money, thank you very much.

But, the Republican party let me down.  They picked a hot-headed, not-very-bright guy based on popularity and hero-status, and then tried to dress him up with a pretty girl with an accent.  Two people of sometimes differing mind sets, but apparently not much of a clue between the two of them.  Ok, perhaps I give McCain too much of a short-shrift on intellect when I really only dislike his lack of an actual platform he's willing to stick to, his gung-ho, damn-the-torpedoes attitude and his apparent lack of deep thought [Just think - if he had given DEEP consideration in picking a running mate, is Sarah Palin the best he could do?!?]  Spur of the moment decisions based on popular opinion [Women for McCain - that's why he chose her] are not the way to run a candidacy nor a presidency.

Sigh - enough of politics. 

I started practicing my piano pieces again - just to tinker.  I love the melancholy sounds of the sax and the feel of the keys under my fingers...sometimes even miss my baby grand...just no room for it.  Also started playing chess again - not as fervently(word choice?) as before, but something to enjoy.  I also picked up a book on 6502 assembly language programming and am perusing it but haven't really bit into it yet.

I found a program to rip my DVD's down to 3GP format for my mobile phone.  In a day, there's about 1:30 of my time spent at lunch or commuting to work (no I'm not driving and watching).  I've been able to watch some stuff I've got lying around.  Just today I watched 3 Burns and Allen TV shows I have on DVD.  I love some old stuff, Jack Benny, George Burns.  It's hard to find this stuff, but when I do, I snatch it up.  I have some Red Skelton, Little Rascals and Three Stooges as well.  But I did start out with T3 (Terminator 3) and the ever-fun UHF (w/Al Yankovic).  I finally settled on Xilisoft DVD to 3GP Converter because it was easy, did what I needed and saved me time mucking with all the other software.  

Ok, enough writing - on to other stuff....random as always, Rich

September 16, 2008

What did YOU invent?

So, let's see, Al Gore invented the Internet, John McCain invented the Blackberry. What have you invented today? If you were going to claim that you'd invented something, what would it be? Would it be technology related, or would it be something else with lasting effect on the world?

I think that perhaps I'll claim that I invented the aglet, the plastic sleeve that encloses the end of the shoelace, making it easy to thread through the eyes of the shoe.

The political process has become such a ridiculous show. I'm so disappointed in the process, the candidates, the campaign methods, the dirty tricks, the stupidity and absurdity of the press coverage....

Meanwhile, the United States economy is falling apart, ignoring sound foreign policy doctrine, pissing off peoples and governments (Pakistan, Russia, several South American countries) all over the world. Are the sound bites on the news about how the candidates will change foreign policy? Are the sound bites about how the government plans to get us out of this enormous financial hole which they have dug with their pyramid scheme of a fiat currency?

I wonder if I can run for President if I invent something cool, like an automatic apple corer.....

New Post Type: Frustration

Frustration - a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs

I find myself irritated by a variety of frustrations that plague my working environment. I work as a contractor for the Department of Defense. My work helps me to understand that there is no evil master plan being cooked up by a vast governmental conspiracy. How do I know? Conspiracy requires a minimal level of competence that does not appear to exist in this environment.

Little things seem to be more and more irritating to me these days. Perhaps it is my advancing age (whose age isn't advancing? [Merlin - ok, you got me, name a non-fictional character]). For example: Web applications. Is it so hard for web developers to add a timeout script to their interfaces that will warn me, the user, that my session has expired and that the screen I'm looking at is no longer usable?

It REALLY SUCKS to sit and use a beautiful Flash, Java or DHTML interface for 3 minutes designing my input into the system, only to be given a 'Your session expired and your input has been thrown away' message when hitting submit.

Has computer technology devolved so much that we can't add a clock to the friggin' interface with a countdown timer to when the page is no longer going to be valid?

September 04, 2008

Actuarial Analysis of a McCain Presidency

News outlets have been throwing around a number - 16% - That's what they say the odds of VP Palin becoming the first woman President of the US should McCain win the election in 2008. I brought up this number in a conversation, and was asked to back it up - so I went and looked at an actuarial table. Actuarial table gives odds on someone dying within the year, depending on age. John McCain will be 73 at time of swearing in. A 2004 actuarial table gives these odds for males of that age:
73-0.036086, 74-0.039506, 75-0.043415, 76-0.047789. Now, you can't just add these together, because if the person doesn't die when he's 73, he doesn't have a combined odds of dying at 73 and 74, he just has the remaining odds. To compute this, you take the odds of dying in year 1, and the odds of NOT dying at 73 multiplying by the next year, and so on.

Computing this way, you get a combined odds of dying between the ages of 73 and 76 (if you've already lived to 73) of 16.15%.

These odds are computed with an actuarial table on the Social Security Admin's web site.

August 30, 2008

Why not prepaid utilities?

Just thinking out loud again...why don't utility companies (or grocery stores for that matter) offer pre-paid cards? It'd be nice to give someone a gift of $$ off of their electric bill or next weeks food supplies. In fact, considering that many companies have debts in business, they could offset the interest they pay on these business loans with pre-paid customers. Let's say Dominion Electric Co. has a loan out for $10M at 8% interest, and instead, offer their customers 5% off on pre-paid electricity? Among those people who are capable, who wouldn't invest in next month's electricity if they could get 5% on their money?

August 27, 2008

Just a Thought: Do you really need it NOW?

The computing environment has enabled us to do business faster than ever before possible in human history. However, keeping pace with the business process speed improvements is the speed at which crooks can steal our identities, our information and our money.

I was reading a news article and I had a brief thought that perhaps the answer to some types of cyber-crime might be to slow down, rather than speed up. Like most thoughts I have, this one requires a good deal of fleshing out, but the seed of the idea is that crooks are looking to break in to an enclosure, remove a resource, and leave as quickly as possible. If a crook has to hang around and expose himself to discovery, he's likely to move on to a quicker target with less risk.

What if we slow down our processing at high-risk processing centers, exposing money movement to larger time windows, requiring customers to hang around (and be subject to random audit) before their transactions are processed? What are some good ways to implement delays and exposure to scrutiny into our data systems? What kind of cost benefit analysis can be done for lost productivity vs. increased security? Just a thought.

August 17, 2008

Of Found Lotto Tickets and Roadside Motels

On our recent vacation to Fort Lauderdale, I did some swimming and scanning of the ocean floor for interesting objects. Besides the seaweed, coral rocks, palm-tree leaves and broken shells, I found another object lying on top of the sand and beneath the surf. It was a Florida Lotto ticket, sitting open and displaying its message of hope. Gently, I scooped my hand under the ticket so as not to rip it and lifted it out of the ocean. I walked it back to the beach and laid it out to dry on my skimboard (which I didn't get to use...there's not much surf at Ft. Lauderdale). The drawing date on the ticket was the 16th of Aug, and it was only the 15th. Whoever had lost the ticket was probably looking for it now. Unfortunately for them, they hadn't signed the ticket when they bough it. As Daffy Duck would say: "Mine! Mine! It's all MINE!"

So, here I sit on the 17th of Aug, in a Ramada Motel in South Carolina, heading back up the eastern seaboard. With a single matching number on the lotto ticket, it's much less of a story now. The free breakfast was no big shakes, either, though better than a punch in the nose. The lobby of this particular Ramada was, like that Lotto ticket, so full of promise yesterday. I walked into their beautiful lobby with two descending curved staircases and gorgeously appointed furnishings. There is a huge chandelier dropped between them, leading to a marble counter and large reception area. A promise of a free hot breakfast made the deal complete. However, just like the Lotto ticket, that promise collapsed when we finally saw where we'd be staying. The lobby building is built to hide the motel from the road, perhaps purposefully so. The room door had remnants of spray paint. The door lock, while operational, wasn't trustworthy. It's a good thing there was a second one ;) Also like the Lotto ticket, it wasn't the worst I'd ever had. The room was clean and everything apparently works.

Dissapointment isn't necessarily something you can complain about.

July 21, 2008

Dunkin' WTH Donuts

Since when is a dozen 12? A baker's dozen has been 13 since ye olden times when bakers could be beheaded for providing less than 12 baked products when ordering a dozen. (They included an extra just to make sure!) This safety gap has become an expected part of ordering a dozen donuts, cruellers, rolls, or what have you. Today I went to Dunkin' Donuts because I forgot my CAC card at home, and it is office culture to bring in the donuts when you make a boneheaded move such as this. Imagine my surprise when they pulled out the box and it fit 12 donuts, not 13!

Just as an added commentary on this whole fiasco, the box had a banner on it: 0g Trans Fats! Wowee! Perhaps donuts can be healthy treats?

July 17, 2008

Body of Secrets

I've finished my non-fiction book for the year, Body of Secrets. That makes two of my New Years Resolutions complete. One fiction book, one non-fiction book. I've bought a third book for the year, John Adams: Party of One, which I'll be starting today. When I have time I need to get started on my short story.

July 05, 2008

10-4 Good Buddy

Well, I splurged on myself today and bought my first scanner, a hand-held RadioShack PRO-97. It's an analog scanner (triple trunking) and picks up plenty of signals (but not standard FM 86-108 - my only complaint - this would have been a simple inclusion).

The battery life is pretty good (it takes 4 AA's, but I've been using it about 12 hours almost non-stop), the signal strength is good, the squelch is analog/by-feel.

In just a day, I've learned how to search for signals and save the channels I find. A little harder was comprehending how to program the trunking system here (there's two Motorola systems, one digital, one analog...I kept trying to program in the digital system and didn't understand why all I got was squeals). Now that I know I need a digital trunking scanner, I know what I want for Christmas, a BearCat BCD396T, RadioShack Pro-96 or GRE PSR-500 (digital trunking scanners).

I got the cable and downloaded successfully with some software I found on the NET (Win97) -

Can anyone recommend a FREE software that does this? I went ahead and bought Win97 already, but it'd be nice to have a backup.

Any suggestions, etc, from you hams on the list? So far, this has been better than watching TV ;)

June 19, 2008

People I Know

The world sometimes surprises us by the people we know. Sometimes we're simply surprised at what the people we know are up to. I recently found out that someone I work alongside has a blog. And not only that, he's also into languages, just like someone else I know with a blog. Granted, he's into ancient languages for biblical research, but all the same....

I'm about a third of the way through my non-fiction book for the year, Body of Secrets by James Bamford. Perhaps when I finish the book I'll decrypt the lead-in text for the chapters as an exercise.

May 27, 2008

IM Update - Trillian

If you use Trillian as your IM consolidation tool (connect to Yahoo IM, ICQ, AIM and MSN Messenger) - you'll want to update due to a recently found security hole. The current, patched version is 3.10.0, 18 May 2008. Even though the 'Check for Update' in Trillian doesn't say you need an update, if your Help/About doesn't have the 18 May 2008 date on it, you'll want to manually update your software from Trillian's website.
If you don't use Trillian for IM, it's worth investigating. If you use basic IM clients (not the voice and webcam sharing capabilities, which Trillian doesn't replicate) and have friends on more than one network, it will help you organize your friends, and allow you to run just one IM client. Additionally, it offers encryption compatible with several services and allows connectivity to IRC as well.

May 15, 2008

Crypto Thoughts

I was thinking about cryptography the other day (ok, I know I'm weird, shut up) - and I was imagining a good analogy for public key cryptography. I want to write it down before I forget it. Let's say that you created a lockbox (creating a public/private key pair) with two openings. The first opening allows you to easily remove the contents of the lockbox, perhaps a lid to the box. This is locked and you keep the key to yourself (your private key). The second opening is shaped in such a way that you can deposit documents, but documents can not be retrieved without considerable effort. The shape/size and limits of the second opening represent the complexity of the algorithm you've chosen. Perhaps that opening is S shaped, and accepts at most 1 sheet of paper at a time (thus you would have a hard time obtaining the contents of the lockbox through that hole). This opening is locked shut with a second lock, but copies of these keys are made and given to anyone asking for one. By using this second key, people who want to make a deposit know that the key is for YOUR lockbox, and they use the key to open it, verifying that you will be the recipient. They fold their message into that S-shape and stick it through the hole, unable to retrieve it. You come along and open the box with your key and easily remove the now unfolded sheet of paper.

I'll have to analyze the analogy sometime when I have the time to see how it holds up and can be worked to make it a more interesting story (and see if it leads to any insights).

May 07, 2008

Grifters & Swindlers

I just finished my first non-fiction book in a while - a short stories collection called "Grifters & Swindlers" Edited by Cynthia Manson. I love Grifter stories. One of my favorite authors is O.Henry, a turn-of-the-century(20th) author who wrote short stories. He had a whole book with grifter tales in it as well, although the title escapes me at the moment. The stories in this book were pretty see-through, not much room for a deep twist and turn in a short story at all. However, if you like light reading and want a good variety of short con and long con stories, you might want to pick up the book. I got mine at a used book store.

April 27, 2008

Vista - Day something

Ok, just a few comments from using Vista so far. There's something wrong with Vista's built-in unzip capability. It is slower than dog doo dripping down an even sidewalk on a cold day. I downloaded and installed 7-zip, which is free and open-source (and licensed under LGPL!!! for you programmer/license geeks out there). 7-Zip works much faster than Vista's builtin unzip, so it's worth the extra right-click-menu instead of the simple drag-and-drop out of the archive file.

Other than that problem, Vista works fine for me, and I haven't run into any problems that a simple 'Run as Administrator' doesn't fix. I actually prefer the UAC turned on in Vista as it lets me know when the computer is going to do something potentially destructive.

One of my favorite oldies games is Thief:Dark Project. It requires to be set as Administrator to run because it changes files in the program's installed directory as it runs videos and does save-game files. Thief also is older than multi-processor machines, and freezes up when run on a dual core machine. To fix this, you can either edit the process affinity after you kick it off, or patch the executable (I found the instructions here). Of course, if you run as administrator, you can't simply change the process affinity (as its permissions are higher than yours). I opted to patch my executable.

I also decided I wanted to have Linux around with this laptop, but I didn't want to repartition it and re-install Vista and Linux. So I downloaded Wubi which lets you install Linux into a software partition created by the Wubi product. It also installs Grub and boots into the software partition when you turn on the machine, so it's not running Linux [Ubuntu] in a virtual machine. Linux can be uninstalled quickly from within Windows as well. I'd suggest it for anyone wanting to give Linux a try with minimal pain.

April 11, 2008


Why the fuck are power grid control computers attached to the Internet?

There should be a physical, brick, steel, admantium, whatever, wall between the computer equipment that controls the power stations controls and the rest of the world. These people hacked into this equipment by taking over people's Internet-browser-capable workstations.

HOW? What idiot designed the security at that power plant?

Let's just say that remote control capability is necessary to perform the duties of the controllers at this plant. That remote control should only be possible from an authenticated, otherwise unattached terminal from an equally secure location. The remote control terminal does not need to be able to access YouTube.Com.

The state of computer security in this country is horrendous. I don't know how the hell the person responsible for this idiocy still has a job. It's just completely unbelievable.

Mobility Modder to the Rescue

Ok, ATI puts out reference drivers for their laptop chips. However, Acer doesn't subscribe to their (whatever) and is not a supported manufacturer under their program to provide drivers. That means when ATI puts out good, working drivers (for example, version 8.3 Catalyst drivers) for my laptop card (Mobility Radeon X1400), they won't install on my laptop, since my hardware is not officially supported.

Thankfully, SOMEONE OUT THERE SOLVED THIS PROBLEM! The good folks at Driver Heaven have a tool that makes changes to the install script(s) for the drivers that allows it to install the drivers on my laptop. I just downloaded and installed the newest drivers using their little modding tool, and everything works! Aero/Glass, Second Life, Phun... I am once again happy with my laptop. Now to take a reference backup/snapshot and move on to installing more stuff. Thank heaven for Driver Heaven! Look for a Paypal contribution from me today!

Vista and the video driver - Day 4

It looks like I have a choice. I can have a Vista installation that works for everything except OpenGL games, or I can have OpenGL drivers that work for everything but Aero/Glass, and crash Vista when I shut down my machine.

Vista came with drivers that work for my video card, but OpenGL performance is approximately 1 frame per second (possibly lower - no I'm not exaggerating!) I've tried my laptop vendor (Acer) and video card vendor (ATI). While newer drivers are out for the video card, Acer hasn't bothered to update them (the laptop's about a year and half old, so why should Acer care) and will likely not be doing so at all.

I downloaded third-party drivers from Guru 3d (OmegaDrivers still hasn't put out a set of 32-bit ATI drivers - :cry: :cry:). They work (as far as making my programs work), but the ATI control center crashes, and when I shut down my machine, it blue-screens.

I've tried even a fresh install of Vista at this point. I think I'm out of Vista options. It looks like I'll have to switch back to XP until OmegaDrivers comes out with a set of drivers that work. Perhaps I'll drop him a note asking nicely.

April 10, 2008

Vista - Day 3 &!@(*^%@*&%$!@

Of course, it was too good to last. One good thing - I did get the printer to work. It wasn't a simple matter. I have my printer on my XP Media PC downstairs, shared out on the network. Vista doesn't even see that PC when you browse the network, although you can see the shares by running \\machinename - you just can't use the shared printer by clicking on it (like you could in XP) and installing it.

Step 1. Install Vista drivers for printer, telling printer driver it's ok that it doesn't see the printer, but to install ANYWAY. This gets driver onto the machine.
Step 2. Choose properties (run as administrator) and choose the Port tab. Add a new port, type: Local Port, name: \\machinename\printersharename .
Step 3. Delete printer.
Step 4. Re-add printer, choosing the port that was set up in Step 2.

It took about an hour to find that solution and figure out the correct steps in the correct order. Any deviation from that order of doing it, and it wouldn't work. I'd get access denied errors and other various and sundry bullshit.

So then I shut my machine down. Vista decided that it knew better than I did about what video driver I should have installed, and 'updated' my ATI video driver during the shutdown/install patches process. I know this because I had previously told it NOT to install that patch, every time I had gone to the update/patch screen. It was the only one left.

Well, fuck Vista.

Now my machine is back to running slow as shit in graphics-intensive applications, and now it crashes/blue screens on shutdown (which causes it to memdump and start right back up). I'm going to have to spend another couple of HOURS cleaning up the mess it created forcing me to patch in this piece of shit graphics driver.

April 08, 2008

Vista - Day 2

Video Drivers are the soul of the computer. I have an Acer Aspire 5672 with an ATI X1400 Mobility card. Updating the drivers with the 1.7.3 NGO Optimized drivers from Guru 3d did the trick for programs that weren't working, including Second Life. Yesterday Phun (a crayon/physics type game) wasn't working except at a crawl, but this definitely fixed that problem. Everything seems to be working pretty good so far...

I also installed new Acer Orbicam and Realtek Audio drivers for Vista from Acer. Next stop - my stupid printer...which I expect to be an issue.

I bit the Vista Bullet

Microsoft lured me into upgrading my laptop to Vista Ultimate with a free copy of the OS I got at a Launch (2008) event. So, last night I bit the bullet. I'll try to make notes here of things as I run into them.

1. The upgrade took hours. I hear clean installs are much faster, but I wanted to keep a lot of software I already had installed.

2. Desktop Icons were BIG - solution: click on desktop, hold Ctrl, and use mousewheel to resize them.

3. Windows Search wants to index my whole hard drive - serious disk usage - solution: disable Windows Search service

4. Aero works great - but if you want the diagonal window task switcher, you have to learn to use the Windows-Tab instead of Alt-Tab

5. AVG Anti-virus had to be reinstalled. I have the free version, but the license data didn't carry over in the migration.

Will post other stuff as it happens/I remember.

April 07, 2008

Springfield Mall - WTF?

What the hell is going on at Springfield Mall? I was at the mall on Sunday afternoon, and it appeared that large swaths of the mall were closed off. Stores and eateries were walled off with drywall, and even the movie theater was closed. I checked their website this morning, and there was no information at all. If you live in Northern Virginia, you may be wondering whether it's a sign of the economic times, or just a case of suburban blight. In fact, with some of the goings-on in the past year at the mall, I could easily imagine vendors jumping ship. When gun-play comes to your local shopping center, it's easy to figure that stores may wish to relocate.

But a little birdie told me something big is cooking at the mall. A major renovation is planned for Springfield Mall, with upscale stores planned for the renovations, although I didn't get any specifics from my singing friend. Perhaps the 'upscale' target is to fight off the image that Springfield Mall may be getting after the shooting incident. I was told that some stores are being forced out of the mall, while others are being given the opportunity to relocate. In fact, my favorite barber shop was relocated upstairs next to J.C. Penney's.

A quick call to the Springfield Mall contact number got a little bit more information. Planning meetings are apparently being held with local community groups, most likely the Springfield Chamber of Commerce at a minimum. The renovations will begin after some more stores are relocated to one side of the mall, and this should be happening in the next few months. They have also told me that a new website will be launched with information about the renovations soon. While the person I spoke to was unsure about whether it'd be linked to their main site, I suspect it will.

If you're a shopper, or you just live in the area and were curious as to what is going on, now you know.

March 25, 2008

Notes from Microsoft 2008 Heroes Happen {here} Launch Event

I went to the Launch event today in Washington, DC for Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008. I took notes, so I'm going to jot them all down here.

First off, the freebies - Vista Ultimate and Visual Studio 2008 Standard Edition. The other freebies are one-year evaluation versions of Server 2008 Enterprise and SQL Server 2008 Standard (via voucher as it's still in beta - but you also get the CTP disk). Free is free - I would have liked a copy of Server 2008 outright instead of the Vista Ultimate (which I neither needed nor really wanted). It would be much more fun to have Server 2008 on my machine which I use as my home server than the copy of XP Media Edition that is on it right now. Seeing as how I run MS Virtual PC to run other OS's on that machine, it's already acting as a server.

On to the notes:
Got badges, etc, picked up breakfast which came in a cooler [w/lunch] that has been labeled Microsoft [freebie soft cooler! yay!] Got a coupon for the free software which we won't get until lunchtime.

Visit this link to look at current Business Intelligence products from Microsoft including Performance Point Server and Proclarity (and its Sharepoint plugin?!?). I spoke with a BI guy at a Microsoft BI booth in the hall during breakfast, and I had not seen Performance Point Server yet. It looks like it may have some very cool stuff that's easy to take advantage of, including KPI metrics and Balanced Scorecard presentation stuff out of the box. This could be useful in some work I'm currently doing.

Keynote Address:
Bob Muglia
-- Sorry Bob, I think you lost your audience from the get-go. There didn't seem to be enough dynamic information in your presentation - it was geared for business managers, not techies. The slides were frequently boring with no real message for us, and it felt like a lecture - we'd rather have WOW upfront. Leave the slides for the boardroom.
-- Unfortunately, Bob also has a bit of squeaky voice. When he stresses a point, his voice-box would collapse on him, very noticeable when amplified. Made it harder still to hear his message.
-- He also started to talk about how management structure needs to support new technology. Great, Bob, would love some tips on how to change that.....but you didn't give us any.
-- There was a few minutes of blatant pushing of Vista SP1 (wrong launch event, no?)
Have a note in here to look at the Workflow Designer in VS 2008.

Finally, Bob got to the meat of things and brought up Partners and showed us a real product implementation at Vanderbuilt University Medical Center [I think I know someone there - note to myself to ask them about their experiences with 2008 product line].

Finally we get to some of the new product stuff:
Server 2008 - Deployable images, Geo-clustering
SQL Server 2008 - SQL Server security over Oracle (0 CVE's in last 4 years?!? need to verify that!)

UniSys Partner came up and talked about their product the Infrastructure Management Suite. The whole time Bob Muglia seemed to stand there with a perma-frown. My notes say he looked kind of like Fred Thompson's twin brother, but I was sitting toward the back, even with the Jumbo-screens.....

SSIS experiences were discussed and the guest speaker (forgot which) mentions he imported 1TB of data in 30 minutes...testament to SQL Server 2008 performance.

Virtualization was discussed - HyperV - and something I didn't know about - SoftGrid Application Virtualization - my notes have a 'definitely go look up' next to that. Virtualization for applications is a great move, I think, and as the day wore on, I saw that virtualizing applications is a nice new feature. Why serve up a whole desktop (RDP) when you only need to serve up one app at a time.

System Center has a new addition - Virtual Machine Manager - to integrate into Operations Manager. They pointed out that in VM Manager, you could put prebuilt images into the library for easy deployment of new VMs on a pre-built configuration - nice feature. They also mentioned the VM Manager would eventually support managing VMWare ESX servers....

New in IIS - Shared Configuration - from a Configuration Server, you can save the configuration of a website and redeploy the configuration to a new IIS Server.

SQL 2008 -
Resource Governor, application pools by which CPU/memory could be managed for multiple user groups to give more power to those who need it.
Policies - Set up policies for compliance and configurations - apply them to multiple servers.
Full Database Encryption - invisible to the user, use asymmetric keys or server certificates

Server 2008 again - Terminal Server Remote Application Manager - more on virtualization, and Presentation Virtualization .

G. Andrew Duthie shows us Visual Studio 2008 stuff, including:
Team Foundation Server integration
Split Views
CSS View to track where CSS is being applied
JavaScript debugging

He also shows us Expression Blend and VS 2008 sharing a project, mentions that project files are compatible between the two.

A J Mee shows us SQL Server 2008 stuff, but from user perspectives:
Outlook's integration with Dynamic CRM
KPI/Balanced Scorecard presentation of data, support for Geo-spatial data, integration with Virtual Earth...
Shows us that SQL Server 2008 exposes underlying analysis tools through Excel 2007 - looks like something to definitely look into (in my notes and big STAR next to it)

Free copy of Vista is mentioned, and the keynote is over. While the first part of the keynote offered to bore me to tears, I am now fully awake and anxious to hear about some of the stuff I've heard about...I decide to change tracks to the Database track from the IT Pro track (but I still want to see the Application Virtualization!). I managed to catch all the stuff I wanted to. I'll throw up some more of my notes from the breakout sessions later this week.

March 12, 2008

Is Computer Science actually Linguistics?

Thought for the day:

Computer programming is considered alternately a 'science' subject and a 'mathematics' subject. Yet, science and math are two different approaches to problems. The scientific method involves identifying questions, formulating hypothesis based on knowledge, designing experiments to prove the hypothesis, experimenting and recording the results. Science may also involve using these results to solve problems that drove the initial questions. Some people think of programming this way. Programs to these people are trial and error constructs by which former knowledge is researched to find solutions to newly posed problems. Requirements, then, become the initial problem, and logical questions are posed, solutions hypothesized, and some code is thrown at it to see if it works. When it does, it's documented and perhaps utilized in the overall solution.

Alternately, programming is a mathematical discipline. Mathematics is the linguistics of science. It is the constrained language by which concepts are discussed. Study of mathematics, like any language, is the study of pre-defined concepts and how these concepts can be put together to express ideas. Again, some people think of programming in this fashion. Programs to them are sentences and paragraphs to be put together to express the ideas posed to them in one language (e.g. English) in another language (e.g. COBOL). Conversion of software requirements to computer code means the literal translation of instructions such that the machine acts in such a way as defined by the original authors.

Cool thing of the day: (thanks to Digg users for the link). Bio-engineers are attempting to create an organism (by programming DNA) that will eat CO2 and sunlight to create oil fuels. I could go on, but the video at the site includes explanations that speak for themselves. If you have 15 minutes, go watch this link at Ecogeeks. The work they are doing at Synthetic Genomics is VERY cool.

March 10, 2008

Bread Machine

Let's see, this weekend I wasted time. That's pretty much all I did. I played a little World of Warcraft, played with a new physics-based game called Phun, and on Sunday I bought a bread machine. As I was purchasing it, I realized that it had been a subconscious decision brought upon by TV, but I bought it anyway. I had recently seen two episodes on TV that had bread machines in them. One was an episode of Friends (where Chandler makes out with Joey's girlfriend), and another was an episode of Raymond, where his dad bought a bread machine (but he's going to return it) to have a bread making race with his mother.

I had searched online and saw some bread recipes and decided that I want to try it. I still haven't gone shopping for ingredients. I'm going to do a little research to see where I can pick up some tips and tricks for making a good loaf from the start. If you have suggestions, please leave them as comments.

February 27, 2008

DNA Facial Feature Identification

I wonder if any work is being done on DNA-facial feature mapping? DNA should be a huge indicator of a person's physical characteristics (think hook-nose, cleft chin, eye color, hair color, race, facial shape). I wonder if anyone is doing work in this area to find non-common denominators? With recent analysis that determined that twin DNA is not always identical, perhaps physical characteristic analysis is being done in the DNA arena. I think it would be very efficient to be able to pull some skin out from the fingernails of a victim, pop it into a computer and get a basic printout that showed some guy with an oval face, a cleft chin, brown eyes, thin brow in his 40s (as judged by telemoerase decay) and be able to say 'This is the guy we're looking for'. The preponderance of criminals with plastic surgery probably isn't all that much of a problem, and it would be a fantastic investigative tool.

Tenant-Safe Housing

Again, random thinking about problems/solutions. Today's problem: inadequate safe low-income housing in urban and close-in suburban areas. One of the problems you see when you shop for truly low-cost housing in the DC area is the predominance of real estate that has been trashed, destroyed and neglected. Anything costing less than $100,000 seems to be housing that has been destroyed by the previous tenants. However, there is still a need to provide housing at these low costs.

Today's Solution: Tenant-safe housing development. What needs to happen is that the housing, when constructed, needs to be built to be safe from abuse. The materials and construction methods that we use for housing today is not built to withstand abuse and neglect. We build walls out of a thin paper-board that is easy to punch through. Vinyl siding is easily punctured, written upon and destroyed. Plumbing is exposed and cabinetry is made of processed wood that is easily ripped from its moorings. Maintenance is required for indoor fixtures and appliances. Carpeting and wood flooring is easily destroyed.

What we need to have is a construction mechanism for creating living space in such a way that when a tenant leaves, it can be practically bulldozed clean. The landlord or owner should be able to completely wipe clean the previous resident's filth and neglect and be able to start with a working, functional and presentable empty space Building cost itself becomes less of a problem when maintenance costs are nullified because eventual recapture of capital is all but assured.

Imagine a cement box to which recessed electric outlets, plumbing and basic appliances (stove, refrigeration) were provided. The appliances are hardened against wear and tear, mold, filth build-up. The electric outlets are tamper-proof and safe from spillage, shorting and jimmying. If the home is lived in by someone who lives in a pig-sty fashion, the landlord comes in with a set of brooms, garbage bags and a large hose. The entire place is cleaned within a day. No new paint is needed, no new carpeting. Mold is treated, walls and floors are swept and washed. The appliances are tested to ensure functionality, and the next day it is ready to be lived in.

The external part of the home also needs to be engineered to be resistant to graffiti, damage from baseballs and other thrown objects, perhaps even drive-by gunfire......

Just a thought to come back to some day....

February 25, 2008

The Future of Economics: Capitalized Socialism

8I'm still working on what to call it. People in the United States don't like the word 'socialism'. Especially those of us who remember the Cold War and the U.S.S.R. Communism is a dirty word, even though it wasn't so much communism as fascism that we really had a problem with; but I digress. This is going to be a random rant about our capitalist economy, socialism ideas, the future and a change that we are undergoing as I write.

The United States thrived through the Industrial Revolution, and through the Computer Revolution that followed it. The lives of our grandparents were hard, back-breaking lives, with 6-day work weeks and 12-hour work days. When they came home, there was still more work waiting for them at the house. Life isn't that hard any longer. Our homes are increasingly coated in new-aged materials such as vinyl-siding and faux brick fronts. Only the trim needs painting, and not even every year at that. Our land is no longer 2 or 3 acres of farmland that needs be plowed, planted, fed and harvested. It's now a patch of 1/4 acre genetically engineered short grass that is fed by automatic sprinklers and the monthly visits from the TruGreen ChemLawn truck. Mowing it takes less than an hour. Our homes are fitted with electronic devices that our grandparents didn't dream of: dishwashers, frost-free refrigerators with ice-makers, and washer/dryer machines.

Not only are our lives easier, but the lives of the lower-class as well. Even the cheapest apartments are fitted with indoor air-conditioning, garbage disposals and clean water and waste disposal. Certainly I am not begrudging the raising of the standard of living in America, I am merely calling attention to it to make a point. The reason that we have these things is because of the bulk production and economies of scale that have taken over in our country. Once we produce a nicety, a creation that makes our lives easier, we distribute the cost of research, development and production on a declining scale based on demand. Demand for the latest and greatest drive down the price of the common and mass-produced, until either the item in question becomes free, or is no longer produced by a corporate society that sees value in profit, but not in social welfare.

And free is relatively new in our society, but it is a growing phenomenon. Wired magazine in March of 2008 has Free! as its cover story and covers a great deal of information about (mostly information and Internet services) things that are free, and why they've become so. While it does not touch greatly on physical items, there is mention of the Freecycle movement in the U.S.

Our efficiency is catching up with us. The things that we need to produce (housing, clothing, food, entertainment) now take much less work to produce than they once did. We also have a vast society full of hand-me downs, with entire generations full of entertainment available to our new generations. With the speed that we can put out entertainment (and retrofit and re-purpose old entertainment), we may have already generated enough for the lifetime of our children.

Perhaps the phrase I was looking for is Hand-Me-Down Capitalism, or Capitalized Socialism.

How does Hand-Me-Down Capitalism work?
1) Corporations invest in research and development to improve products and invent new products.
2) Initial production runs and initial high prices pay the costs of the initial R&D and protect a comfortable margin of profit during production runs. Profits are kept in-house as those who provide R&D and initial creation of items are given the incentive to continue making new things.
3) Production runs over-produce what is necessary to ensure that goods are available until they are outmoded. Here we have to make some concessions for socialism to provide the incentives for companies to do this. This is where we switch from capitalism to socialism and need the greatest re-engineering of our monetary-centric economy.
4) Hand-me-downs are turned in for newer models and re-used for those who can not afford the latest and greatest. (This is where we need some more work - especially in using enduring standards during engineering)
5) Mass production of older models need socialized assistance to ensure continued availability after what we consider end-of-life today.

At the bottom of the society are those who do not work on the production of new things. In fact, new labor force is needed to put into production the items of old. Social work programs can reproduce what the factories of old produced, with all of the lessons learned through initial production runs. Repetitive tasks mean work for unskilled laborers. Exposure to technology and historical runs of older products mean training and education of those who may be starting at the lower rung of the labor force. Increased production of goods mean greater availability of older items for places in the world that may not have them.

Capitalism will continue to thrive because our advertising and marketing will continue to do a great job providing us the incentive to want the biggest, baddest, brightest we can offer. The only way to afford this ever-increasing standard of living will be to participate in the cutting edge and pulling down a piece of the unsocialized money supply. Fewer and fewer workers will be needed, however, as technology rapidly increases our effectiveness. Competition for the high-life will become more and more fierce.

Concerns for this new economy include ever-increasing class warfare, and a sense of entitlement for the lower class. We already see that those who have a standard of living above and beyond what could be expected a mere hundred years ago feel cheated that they can not live the life of the middle class. We need to do a better job of ensuring that maintenance of the standard of living of the lower class is kept to a level wherein this rebelliousness is quashed through 'good-enough' levels of service.

What we need:
1) Better engineering for increased life-span of physical goods.
2) Use of standards in part usage and item design to ensure continuing serviceable goods.
3) A recognition of social needs in addition to profit needs. Provide incentives for R&D that make a difference in how things are engineered to ensure long-lasting items.
4) Social work programs that provide service levels for the hand-me-downs in society. This means providing incentives for the working poor to continue working, incentives that may not mean a change in class, but instead a sense of accomplishment, belonging and entitlement that provide quality of life improvements from a psychological, if not physical standpoint.
5) Bring back Mr. Fix-It. Social intervention should provide incentives for fixing and maintaining old items to ensure continued serviceability instead of the American throw-away culture. Since the financial incentives may not be there for these highly skilled individuals, society needs to provide incentives for their continued existence. Low cost parts availability, anti-trash incentive programs (imagine what it costs the environment to trash a computer versus reusing it [or its parts] and pay the differential as a cost incentive to those who work to save it)

I am coming back to this draft now two days later. I've had some time to give it some more thought, and I came up with an idea. What might help is if we were to create something much like the energy/carbon credits. We could create the 'SC' credit (for Social Conscience). We could give companies SC credits that could be used to gain tax benefits (or other incentives such as access to federally sponsored corporate loan programs). People would be able to amass SC credits as well. In fact, one thing I've always been a fan of is 'work for welfare' programs. Some of you who know me are probably asking yourself whatever happened to my belief in limited government. I'm not so much a fan of small government, as I am a fan of limited governmental meddling. Less rules, more services...but again, I digress.

SC credits are like money, but are centered on providing basic quality of life services and have an economy that cannot be used for frivolous purposes. You wouldn't be able to trade your SC credits outside of the program. SC credits could be integrated into the social security program (x SC credits = 1 work credit). Other governmental services could be bought with SC credits, like maybe a fast lane at the DMV, or extend your unemployment insurance for a month.

Obviously there are a lot of details that need to be worked out to prevent crossover areas (where we provide money for social recipients to pay for things that are a necessity to them, but not to their landlord, e.g. rent) from becoming places where abuse and fraud amass.

The benefits, however, would be fantastic. People could perform social welfare to amass credits they can use later in life when they're unemployed and/or retired. SC credits wouldn't need to be taxed. You wouldn't allow people to freely trade them to prevent fraud. It would force people to either be independently frugal or provide community service in order to receive community help. Incentive programs ensure that businesses provide their 'hand-me-downs' to help society. You could even provide programs like patent-release programs where engineering diagrams and documents are released into the public domain for social credits.

That's my thought for the day...and this post is already too long.

Post 500

It's been a long road, but here I am writing the 500th post on my personal blog. My life has changed (for the better) since I began writing this blog, but mostly I'm the same person I was when I started. A person much like you. You see, we're all the same, with the same insecurities, the same concerns, the same foibles. Each one of us judges him or herself harshly, comparing their worst traits with the best traits of others. Knowing this is probably the only thing that keeps us sane.
I haven't made any progress on my New Years Resolutions. In fact, this weekend, I even broke my no-aspartame regimen and opted for a diet coke while visiting Washington DC this weekend. We went to the Hirshhorn in downtown D.C. This is probably my favorite museum in the district. If you like contemporary art and/or sculpture, I highly recommend it. They constantly have new exhibits. I took some pictures with my camera phone, but opted against lugging the SLR. Seeing life through the lens of a camera dulls the experience, and when I have the camera I tend to keep it to my eye. I just wanted to experience the museum.
We sold our oldest car, the 2000 Dodge Neon. We went up to CarMax in Sterling, VA. It only took them about 30 minutes to inspect the vehicle and give us a fairly reasonable offer. While it wasn't as much as we'd hoped, it was fair enough to part with it.
I downloaded Microsoft Expression Design and Blend this weekend (the demo versions) and started doing the tutorials they link to. It's a different development environment than I'm used to, being graphically oriented rather than logic-oriented. I finished up the interface/XAML creation component and am just now getting started with Blend itself. Perhaps working with the graphical components will nudge my creative side out into the open.
Well, enough free flow writing for now..perhaps later.

February 20, 2008

The occasional narcissist

I was driving home in bad weather today in stop and go traffic. You know, the kind of traffic that just rocks you to sleep. I was in front of a commercial van and behind some sports car and moved up a half of a car length to close the gap. The van behind me didn't move. As I started to smell something funny, the van blinked its high beams at me, twice, three, four times. It still didn't move up. I started looking to the van to try to see if the driver was signaling to me as I moved up another car length. The passenger reached out his hand in front of the vehicle, and I began to panic. Is something wrong with my car? Am I on fire? I searched for the funny smell, and then I saw what the passenger was really doing. He was throwing water on the van's windshield from inside. As the van turned on its wipers, I realized that he wasn't signaling me. In fact, it had nothing to do with me. He had been searching for the wiper fluid switch, perhaps not familiar with the van controls. As his buddy threw his drink up against the window, the van's wipers came on, and he continued to move up. Sometimes I can be such a narcissist.

February 15, 2008

Giving up Aspartame

On this date, Feb 15, 2008, I have poured out 20 oz. of Diet Coke into the drain. I weigh 213 pounds at 6' 1". After reading about a private aspartame experiment, and recalling similar readings, I have decided that I am switching to a water-based diet, and for the next year will not eat foods containing artificial sweeteners. I will not change my eating habits in any other way. Rather than buy 'sugar-free' jello or pudding (and similar products), I will continue to eat those products with the normal sugar content. I will also not change my exercise regimen of 'occasional' workouts. Completely non-experimentally sound (as it also means giving up the caffeine and carbonation in the diet sodas), I want to see what happens to my weight and health over the next year. I will post on my progress if anything interesting occurs (like losing that 20-30 pounds I'm carrying around needlessly).

January 15, 2008

Is Belief a Reckonable Force?

Thoughts to examine. Is belief a force to be reckoned with? Is it possible that belief in something itself can help cause it to come true? And if so, at what atomic level does this force begin and end?
Let's start with some psychology. Game theory suggests, and experiments seem to show that humans (and indeed monkeys as well), when given a choice between two scenarios, would rather be in a 'winning' position than actually have a more beneficial outcome between the two choices. In other words, they'd rather be in a position where they come away with more than their counterparts in the game scenarios.
Now, if we take this and extrapolate it to politics, where the atomic scale is groups of people, is it possible that people have a predisposition to vote for whomever they think is going to win an election? Has belief in 'who will win' become a psychological tool that can be used to sway an election? If so, have we given too much power to the major media outlets? If they say that a candidate has no chance of winning, doesn't that influence his/her chance by itself? If the major media outlets declare that someone is becoming a leader in the polls, is this a self-fulfilling statement?
What about at an individual level? Can belief affect us at the level of just one person? By following the lives of very religious people, one might begin to believe this is the case, as faith seems to drive their life decisions and affect positive outcomes. Or does blind faith drive their expectations and the analysis of the outcomes themselves? One experiment into the power of belief would be the placebo effect, where a sugar pill is substituted for real medication. In some instances, the placebo can have the same effects as the actual medicine, although I've only heard of such success when it comes to pain management.
Perhaps belief itself is not a power in and of itself, but something that can affect comprehension of causality. When an outside influence can be utilized to affect the outcome, people may be willing to push that outside influence to cause the desired or believed outcome, often without conscience effort. Modifying our theory that belief is a force, then, perhaps we could say that the blindness of causality within humans is a weakness that can be manipulated to swing independent forces in our favor. And in that case, the atomic scale of the force of 'belief' would end at the level that irrational thought begins in mammals.

January 08, 2008

What's Important?

It's time for a randomble. As you age, you become more introspective. Sometimes this can be a bad thing, because you tend to beat yourself up about every little thing that you do wrong. Sometimes it's a good thing, because you begin to realize how you've changed over the years...and this may be the key to recapturing your youthful energy.

Hopefully, society is also becoming more introspective. Aside from the news about Jamie Lynn Spears being pregnant (of COURSE you knew about that already), there was a variety of articles decrying that we spent so much front-page space on that story. The Internet is changing the way that we look at media. The blow-back from the Paris Hilton stories (and the MSNBC host that ripped up the Hilton coverage on the air - yay for her!) may have been a sign that we, as a society, are getting tired of our attention being drawn away from what's important.

Who cares what O.J. Simpson is up to, or whether Britney Spears lost custody of her kids? Why is this important to you? Isn't your time and brain power better spent on dealing with the real troubles of the world? Don't we have enough problems of our own to not have to focus millions of dollars of our collective Gross National Product on paying photographers to record the lives of the 'rich and famous'? I say, enough already. As a society, it's time for us to refocus.

On a personal level, let's start with the idiot box in your house....the television. Turn it off. That's right - I want you to commit to watching a (MINIMUM) 1 hour a day 'NO SHOW'. That's an hour blocked out, just as if you were to watch a regularly scheduled daily TV show. And I don't want you to pick up the mouse in its place. No TV also means no Internet, and no rags (magazines) either. Instead, I want you to spend an hour with your family, your friends, or a hobby. It doesn't matter what you do with your time, but here's the plan. Since you're not spending an hour watching Entertainment Tonight, or other drivel on the boob tube, you'll actually activate your mind and disincentivize the producers of the mindless crap that is filling your brain.

In the 1960's, the United States sent a man to the moon. The computing power used to perform this feat can be found in a computer the size of a postage stamp today. The science we used to do it is taught in high schools around the country. We built nuclear power plants, bridges, skyscrapers and had a civil rights turnaround.

Since the 1960's, we've barely done shit. We've created an entertainment industry that has run away with our consciousness. We've self-hypnotized our society with a heap of mindless crap that isn't doing anything for us as a whole except keep us occupied and numb to the fact that our country and the world is falling apart at the seams. We need to wake up.

There's been a lot of technological change over the past 40 years, and we now have more capability than our parents could have ever dreamed. The problem is that we're not utilizing it to solve our problems. Instead, we're using it to keep ourselves busy while we wait for the rest of the world to right itself. Well, the responsibility is yours, not someone else's. Turn off the distractions, and get back to production values that made this country great in the first place.

Maybe I'm just projecting here. Maybe I'm projecting my own personal sense of a wasted 40 years on everyone else. It's possible that I'm dead wrong about the state of American ingenuity and creativity. But, let's take a look at what we produce today, and ask ourselves where we're headed. When I look at how much time we spend discussing mindless drivel and avoiding real problems, I can't help but think it's not just me who's lost his way.

January 06, 2008

Sweeney Todd: Comical Horror Done Proper

I just got back from watching Sweeney Todd. A few things you should know. I'm a fan of musicals, Johnny Depp, and the director, Tim Burton. I was not disappointed. The movie, right from the get-go, had the air of a Burton horror. The direction and the use of color (and more so the lack thereof), the camera work and the scenery were all fantastic. There was not a chink in the armor of the film, from the costumes to the washed out and ghostlike face of Depp to the wonderfully ghoulish meat pie shop with bugs all about.

It looks like they chose wisely for most of the cast, as well, with Alan Rickman (who will forever be known as Professor Snape) as the evil judge for us all to hate, we find ourselves identifying with a psychopathic killer and his sick, twisted beau (Helena Bonham Carter). Depp plays a wonderful sociopathic barber, and turns out a fairly good duet or two. Also memorable is Timothy Spall as Beadle Bamford. Unfortunately, Sacha Cohen did not seem to find his own in this movie, though he was given plenty of screen time to attempt it. Perhaps he was trying to ham it up, but the sense of humor of the Borat star did not exactly mesh with the undertone humour necessary for this film.

The comical mix of horror and insanity of this film makes it watchable through the blood and gore mixed in. Perhaps if Freddy Kruger used more subtle humour and sang a ditty every now and again, he'd be more welcome in my DVD collection. In any case, Sweeney Todd will certainly be taking up room on my shelf when it is released.

January 02, 2008

Killing SPAM with GMail

Someone posted a feature of GMail that is very interesting, and it turns out, very useful. The tip boils down to this. Your Gmail username will accept email addressed to it, or to any version of it with +'sometext' at the end of it. (E.g. If your email address is, it will accept email addressed to That's it. That's the whole key. What makes it useful is that Gmail will allow you to filter email based on the full email address. So, in concept, you could do the following:

1. Use a different codeword (sometext in the example above) for each addressee or class of addressee that you'd like to give your email address. Let's say +closefriend for your closest buddies who would never sign you up for SPAM. And let's say +spam for people who will DEFINITELY sell your email address.

2. Now filter your email based on the distinctive email addresses you've handed out, tagging, deleting, forwarding and archiving it according to how much you care about it.

3. Never use the root address that you have on your gmail account. So, if any mail comes into - you delete it. This prevents SPAMMERS from working around the filter by removing the +codeword on your email address. (Well, it doesn't prevent them from doing it, but it does make it pointless).

4. In the end, only the people you want to communicate with will be coming through in your email box. They'll be identified because the email they send you will contain the codeword you gave them. Use different code words when you sign up at various websites and you'll know which bastards have sold your email address off to someone else. Then you can stop doing business with them, send them emails with dirty looks, etc.

5. There is one more thing you need to do. In the Google interface, go to Settings and click on the Accounts tab. From here, you'll need to add the email addresses you're using, so that you can send mail as 'them'. This will enable you to hold ongoing conversations and still have the reply button work like it normally does. Once you add these other email addresses (e.g. to the interface, you can send mail as these users. You can also set one as your default 'from' address.

January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's 2008, and a lot of things will change this year! If not personally for me, then certainly for the United States. President Bush will be replaced, either for better or worse. The stock market is going to have to absorb a great deal more loss in the financial markets.

But, some things aren't likely to change. For example, Mike Huckabee doesn't look like he'll become less of a manipulative politician. In today's paper I noticed the little manipulation he pulled on the press with the Mitt Romney commercial he's 'not going to air' and that promptly got more air and Internet time than he would have been able to afford on his own.

The media at large will continue to be as manipulatable as they always have been. There are so few 'real' newsmen left who actually research and report on the news, and the rest of the press is driven by levels of fame and press releases. The real news is buried on page 5 and we'll continue to know more about Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy and Lindsay Lohan's hot new beau than we know about what's happening to our soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last night, we went to First Night Alexandria / New Years Eve edition. We'd been on July 4th last year, and had fun except for the rain. This year there wasn't any rain to deal with, but there certainly was a crowd. Even with a large auditorium at the Masonic lodge and a distribution of the crowd to a number of events, seating wasn't always an option. We also dealt with the cold a little bit, but the fireworks show was nice and the colors were just right for the New Year celebration. They gave away 4 million dollars to 4 lucky people, who apparently weren't in the auditorium when they called the lottery numbers. I didn't see the chance to buy lottery tickets, so I guess I missed out on my chances to win.